The Hypocrite's Oath

Evan Thomas of Newsweek has written that the media chorus behind John Kerry's candidacy could add 15 points to his Presidential bid. Given that the race is now about even, or Bush very slightly ahead, this suggests that President Bush would be running away with the election if the media gave him a fair shake.  But it is apparent, given the people who comprise the national political media, that fairness is not the oath they swear to. It might be more accurate to describe the press as subscribing to something entirely different —— the hypocrite's oath.

One of the definitions of hypocrisy in the Merriam Webster dictionary is the 'false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.'  For almost all of the national media, the real religion that drives their work this year is the belief that Bush must go.  But the announced virtues are fairness and truth and honest reporting. 

A few examples will illuminate the hypocrisy. The New York Times for the second straight day had a front page article Thursday on Benjamin Ginsberg, the lawyer who worked with both the Bush campaign, and the Swift Boat Veterans. In the first story, the headline blasted out the news that Ginsberg served in both roles. Buried in the story were Ginsberg's comments that his role was no different that that of various lawyers serving the Kerry campaign and/or the DNC, and also serving with various 527 groups which support Kerry.  The article also contained a chart designed for five years olds to show the nefarious links between Bush supporters or aides and the Swift Boat Veterans group and its contributors (the second such chart to appear in the Times).

But concerning the Democratic lawyers who were serving dual roles, the article only says that Ginsberg made a statement alleging the connections. The Times does not seek to investigate. And of course there is no visual aid to show the links. To date the pro—Kerry 527s have raised over $120 million, and the pro—Bush 527s have raised about $15 million according to reports filed with federal authorities. So which should be the bigger story?  If there is a problem with coordination between a Presidential nominee's campaign, and that of a 527 group, where should the Times be looking —— where the big money has come into play with the Democrats' 527s, or with the very modestly funded Swift Boat Veterans' ads?

Perhaps, the Times and the other national media which follow its lead are simply concerned with the truth. So that is why they concentrate on the Swift Boat Veterans, and not, say, For two years, the Times and others have been telling us that Bush lied, and now, so are the Swift Boat Veterans. Elizabeth Bumiller reported in the second of the front page Ginsberg articles in the Times that the Swift Boat Veterans' charges are unsubstantiated (in other words, lies).  No nuance here. Unsubstantiated. How about the charge that Kerry was not in Cambodia on Christmas eve 1968?  Or the charge that Kerry's first purple heart may have come from a self inflicted wound, albeit inadvertently? On both of these charges, the Kerry campaign, trapped in their candidate's misstatements (or lies), has already retreated. So if two significant charges by the Swift Boat Veterans have already stuck to Kerry, are all the charges unsubstantiated?  The Times managed to mention the Cambodia issue at the very end of a long initial article designed to discredit the Swift Boat Veterans and tie them to the Bush campaign but drew no conclusion that it substantiated a SBVT charge against Kerry. 

Kerry and lying is a subject to be avoided.  This week, another Kerry whopper was identified: when he said last year to an African American audience on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death, that he grieved upon hearing the news of King's assassination while he was in Vietnam. But Kerry did not get to Vietnam until 7 months after King was killed.  Is there any chance that a future Times story will deal with whether Kerry has a fabrication problem, as Al Gore did?

Neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney have ever demeaned John Kerry's Vietnam service, except to praise it, though one might not know this from the innuendo in the major media, which effectively has the Swift Boat Veterans'  morphing into Karl Rove.  In fact, Bush has not only said he honors Kerry's service, he also said he is opposed to all the ads being run by all the 527 groups, which obviously include the Swift Boat Veterans' Ads. But the Times decided the real story was that Bush had not specifically asked the Swift Boat Veterans to take their ad off the air. The Times story on Bush's statement suggested he was being cute about all this, in a sense winking and nodding to the Swift Boat Veterans to keep the ads running. 

On several occasions during the year, Kerry and  DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe have challenged the President on his National Guard service in Alabama in 1972. The Kerry web site still lists questions on this 'controversy.'  The Times reported all the accusations about Bush's National Guard service dutifully when they were made. Now they are aggrieved with the 'unsubstantiated' attacks on Kerry's service, or for that matter, with any challenges to his military record, though Kerry himself is the  candidate who has shamelessly sold his 4 months in Vietnam as all the qualification he needed to serve as President.  

One might also think that the entire Swift Boat controversy concerns whether Kerry deserves his ribbons and medals. But most of the Swift Boat Veterans' book Unfit for Command deals with Kerry's campaign against the war after his return from Viet Nam, and his slander of soldiers still fighting there. And only the first of the three Swift Boat ads deal with Kerry's medals and honors, and even there, peripherally.

Attacking ads if they are pro—Bush or anti—Kerry is nothing new for the Times.  During the course of the year the Times has also had front page articles drumming up controversy over 3 to 5 seconds of pictures from Ground Zero that appeared in a single Bush ad, as if this was a sacrilege being committed with the ad (which was a positive one for the record). 

The supposed commitment to truth on the part of the national media is of course laughable. When Michael Moore's latest screed, Fahrenheit 9/11, hit the screens, it was greeted with near universal acclaim by film critics in the mainstream press. A. O .Scott in the New York Times, rhapsodically called it a great act of patriotism. Scott did not have any concerns with whether Moore was being truthful.  After David Kopel compiled his exhaustive list of the misleading statements and outright lies in Fahrenheit 9/11, one might have expected that the Times or some other establishment media organ would write a follow—up story on the controversy. But other than Michael Isikoff in Newsweek, no such stories  appeared. Only the conservative press has let on that Moore is a ruthless liar. For the record, Kopel is a Naderite. So he is not associated with Karl Rove, or the Swift Boat Veterans.  That might explain why the Times has not reconsidered the truthfulness of Fahrenheit 9/11. After all, it would be impossible to slime Kopel with guilt by association with GOP partisans, or fundraisers.

But the hypocrisy goes further. Paul Krugman, who undoubtedly speaks from the same partisan script as the Times editorial board and most of its news writers, though generally more viciously, penned a piece on Fahrenheit 9/11, and even pointed out a few of Moore's errors.  But Krugman couldn't be concerned with this. He said Moore had done a great national service with the movie. So make a movie that is full of lies, designed to tear down the candidate you want to beat, and you have done a great national service.  Results are all that matter.

The ultimate hypocrisy is the claim that journalism today is concerned with reporting and bringing the news to readers or viewers.  Mainstream journalism is in fact more often concerned with influencing. Journalists believe they have special insight into what needs to happen (in an election for instance), and they want to be players in bringing it about, rather than passively serving as scorekeepers. Every day is a daily game of going through the motions to satisfy the minimal requirements for journalism —— paragraphs, sentence structure, headlines, and reporting some basic news. But the real effort is driven by a different motivation —— to deliver a message, without being too blatant about appearing to. This involves deliberate errors of omission (stories not written), and commission, including lies and distortions, and misleading headlines. Mistakes on the front page are sometimes corrected, and when they are, the correction appears many days later.  Many fewer people will read the correction than the original misinformation. Will the Times print a correction that Bumiller was wrong to say the Swift Boat Veterans' charges were unsubstantiated? Don't hold your breath.